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What Is Immune Globulin?

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Updated October 20, 2008

What Is Immune Globulin?

GamaSTAN is one brand of immune globulin available for treating hepatitis A.

Courtesy of Drugs A-Z
Immune globulin, also known as IG, is a remarkable type of immunization therapy. It's a substance that contains various antibodies collected from the purified blood of hundreds of people that can be used to protect someone from a particular disease. Since IG contains antibodies, it can help lessen the severity of a disease or even prevent it from developing. What makes IG so useful is that it can protect you before or after you've been exposed to a particular disease.

How Does IG Work?

Blood is a complex, liquid-like substance made up of cells (red blood cells and white blood cells) floating in a protein-rich fluid called "plasma," which contains important antibodies that protect against disease. IG is made from the plasma part of blood, which is collected from at least 1,000 donors to make sure the distribution of antibodies is complete. The plasma is purified, which makes it safe to use.

What's the Difference Between IG and Vaccine?

IG is a substance made up of antibodies that are naturally made by the body to provide protection from certain diseases. Vaccine is a substance made up of actual viruses or bacteria that stimulate the body to make more antibodies.

When you get a dose of IG, you're getting antibodies that are ready to immediately start working to defend your body. Vaccines, however, require actual inactivated viruses or bacteria to first stimulate your immune system to start producing its own antibodies. This explains why IG starts to work immediately and also why IG provides only a few months of protection (usually about three months), while vaccines take several weeks to become effective but provide protection for decades.

How Do I Receive IG?

Most IG is given as an intramuscular injection. It's a relatively thick fluid, so it's injected in a large muscle (usually in one of the buttocks for adults or in the front of a thigh for children). The shot is given by a nurse, but sometimes a physician.

Is IG Safe?

Yes, IG is considered very safe, because serious reactions to a dose are very uncommon. Since IG is a thick fluid, it's usually a little painful during or after the injection, but this is a minor discomfort. Other common side effects are flushing, headache, chills and nausea. Serious reactions may involve chest pain, breathing difficulty or anaphylaxis, but are extremely uncommon. IG does not contain thimerosal and is tested for blood-borne microbes, including syphilis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Furthermore, the U.S. government requires manufacturers to follow significant safety procedures, which has ensured that IG doesn't spread diseases. IG is safe for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding.

IG is not recommended for some people. This includes people with a history of serious reactions to IG and people with severe thrombocytopenia.

Are There Different Types of IG?

Yes, in addition to regular IG, there is hyperimmune globulin, which is similar to regular immune globulin except that it has an abundance of a specific antibody instead of a distribution of a variety of antibodies. There is also IG especially prepared to be used intravenously, called "IGIV."

Is Viral Hepatitis Treated with IG?

Immune globulin is available to treat hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Sources:

Dienstag, JL. Acute Viral Hepatitis. In: AS Fauci, E Braunwald, DL Kasper, SL Hauser, DL Longo, JL Jameson, J Loscaizo (eds), Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 17e. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Pickering, LK (ed), The Red Book: Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 26th e. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003. 54-56.

Sjogren, MH. Hepatitis A. In: M Feldman, LS Friedman, LJ Brandt (eds), Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease, 8e. Philadelphia, Elsevier, 2006. 1639.

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